Wednesday, October 15, 2008

An Excursion to the Fabric Market

Today has been a full day. No less than three things I want to blog about! Originally, it was all about going to the fabric market, but as I walked to Sherry's place this morning, two other blogs just kind of happened. So I'll start at the beginning. Don't worry; the fabric market is still most of it.

I left home this morning a little before 10, as I was meeting Sherry and her landlady around 10:30. It was a nice, comfortable temperature, so I wanted to walk. As I headed down Bour Said, my first blog happened: I saw a man on a motorcycle, and he actually was wearing his helmet!! That sight alone is blog-worthy. Here you often see people on motorcycles holding a helmet in their laps, sometimes along with a child or two, but it's rare to see a helmet on a head. So there you go, first blog done.

As I continued down Bour Said, I heard a horn honking behind me. This, too, is nothing unusual. Cars often honk just to let you know they're there, and taxis honk to attract your attention if the driver thinks you may want a ride. I was on a nice, high, wide sidewalk (no chance of being hit by wandering out into traffic), and I didn't want a ride, so I didn't turn to look. As the car passed me, though, I saw that it wasn't a taxi. It was a newer model, shiny black personal vehicle. It got about ten feet ahead of me and pulled over. The driver's side window was up (therefore the vehicle had air conditioning), but the passenger side window rolled down as I watched. The driver was male, and he was alone in the car. Now this behavior is unusual and a little creepy, same as it would be in the States. I continued walking, although I patted the outside pocket on my purse where my mobile phone lives just to make certain it was accessible. As I walked by the car, the driver glared at me. He didn't say anything, didn't get out of the car, didn't even smile appreciatively the way some rather rude Egyptian men do. (They aren't supposed to notice women who aren't noticing them.) I broke with "proper" female behavior by glaring back at him and kept walking. After I had gone a few feet past the car, he pulled back out, tires squealing, and sped off. I haven't had anything like that happen before, and I don't know why it happened now. I was dressed modestly; I was wearing loose khaki pants and a loose blouse with three-quarter length sleeves--I even had my hair up in a clip, although not covered. Anyway, it was a strange occurrence.

So I continued on to Sherry's place. Her landlady, Iman, was late--by U. S. standards; she was on time or maybe even early by Egyptian standards. She showed up around 10:45 for the 10:30 meeting. Sherry and I hopped in her car and we were off. We headed out of Maadi and up the Corniche. We went past the embassy a little ways, then turned off onto a small street that ran roughly parallel to the Corniche. I saw fabric shops lined up in rows on my right. On my left, there were cars double-parked on the side of the road. Car after car after car . . . not a hole in sight. After a few minutes, ,we saw on empty spot, but the car ahead of us took it, so we kept going. Finally, we reached the end of that road, and our driver spoke with one of the parking attendants. These are men who hang out in areas where lots of people want to park; they stop traffic so you can get into or out of a spot, and you tip them. The attendant confirmed "Mafiish makaan" ("there is not a place"). So we went back out to the Corniche.

We drove slowly up the Corniche, looking for a place to park. No luck. Finally, we had gone so far that we wouldn't be willing to walk back to the fabric market, so we found a turnabout and turned around. Next thing I knew, we were on a bridge heading across the Nile. Iman looked a little surprised and said "I am going the wrong way!" We had gotten up onto a bridge because the vast majority of the road went straight onto it, with no way to turn around, and the part that went around it to continue going south along the Nile was small and required a quick turn. So we headed across the Nile to one of the islands--I forget which one, but it wasn't Zamalek; it was north of Zamalek, I think--then headed down the Corniche on the other side until we got to a turnabout. Then it was back north to the end of the island, back across the Nile, and we were headed south again.

Not long after that, we started seeing cars parked on the right side of the road. Iman said that she didn't think you could park there, but we all agreed that apparently you can. There was a small break in the cars, which we didn't see until we were past it, so Iman backed up a good 20 feet along the busy Corniche. The woman is fearless. When we got back to the spot, she started to get into it, then realized that it was too small. She started to pull back out, when a man came running across six lanes of traffic from the other side of the Corniche. It was the parking attendant. Iman said out the window "Sughayyar!" (it's small) and started to keep going, but he indicated for her to wait a minute, he'd push the cars to make the spot bigger. Apparently when you parallel park on the side of a busy street, it's customary to leave the car in neutral so the attendant can push it to let another car in or out. So Iman parked, and we crossed the Corniche--it didn't even scare me this time!--and headed a little farther south to the fabric market.

Iman led us directly to a shop called Soiree. The owner, Fayez Labib, sells all sorts of beautiful material for dresses. There was lace and silk, as well as other nice fabric I didn't really recognize. And of course, there was the satin for which I was looking. I wanted either a royal blue or an emerald green. I wanted to see the material before I picked a color for certain. When we first went in, Iman gestured at a beautiful brown and gold lace with a matching taupe silk, and the shopkeeper pulled it out and spread it across a table. He pulled out pictures of models wearing different dresses made from the same type of material. I don't think Iman realized that I already had the style in mind and really just needed satin. The lace and silk she had picked out actually would have been nice with my coloring; they just didn't fit the dress I wanted. So with some help from Sherry, I conveyed what I needed, and the shopkeeper brought out some satin samples.

First he showed me a lot of reds, yellows, and oranges. Not exactly what I had in mind. I don't know any Arabic color words, but Sherry eventually made him understand that we wanted to see blue and green. So he pulled out his very limited selection. The Arab skin tone looks amazing with the warm colors; they don't get as much call for the cooler colors, so there were fewer options. They had bright greens, but only one dark green. It was almost black. They had several blues, including one almost purple one that Sherry and I both loved. But when I told Labib how much I needed, he faltered. He tried to tell me that that was too much; dresses don't require four meters of material! Where did I ever get such an idea that so much was needed? "From the dressmaker." Iman rightly guessed that Labib didn't have enough of that particular fabric. So he brought out large bolts of two other blues and practically begged me to come see myself in a full-length mirror with those fabrics held up in front of me. I have to admit it; he had picked out two beautiful blues that worked well with my skin tone. So I picked one of those and asked how much. "Twenty-five pounds a meter." So LE100, roughly 20 dollars. I was okay with that. Iman . . . not so much okay with that. A little arguing--I mean, bargaining--later, I walked out of the shop with four meters of material. My wallet was LE80--roughly 16 dollars--lighter.

Iman needed to buy some slippers, and Sherry and I wanted to see a little more of the fabric market, so we didn't head straight back to the car. We roamed down a narrow "road" between open stalls. Most had bolts of fabric stacked neatly along the walls. Some had scarves, dresses (Western-style and gallabeyas), or blankets displayed. One seemed to sell nothing but bras. We went into one other fabric shop, where Iman took stock of what they had available. Apparently, she's going to need some dresses for some events coming up, so she's getting ideas.

As we headed back out to the Corniche, I stopped to look at some scarves. There were some nice ones, and I asked "Bi kam?" (how much?) The shopkeeper told me that the one I was looking at was LE20, and he promptly took it off the display, unfolded it, and thrust it into my hands. He then led me deeper into the stall, pointing out scarves all along the way. I turned to make sure that Sherry and Iman hadn't left me--I had been in back--and saw Iman scowling. I asked her if it was a good price. "No." We left. As Sherry and I followed Iman through the crowd, she suddenly doubled back. "He is calling us back." Sherry and I looked at each other--had either of us heard anything that remotely sounded like it was directed at us? No, didn't think so. But we went back to the stall. Before I knew it, Sherry and I both were holding several scarves (Sherry wasn't even looking, they just got thrown at her), and Iman was talking with the shopkeeper. The shopkeeper was getting more and more upset. I couldn't understand what was being said, but he kept stalking off then turning back. Finally Iman told me that the scarf was LE15, a good price. I bought two as gifts and we left. The shopkeeper--still scowling--seemed glad to see us go.

We headed back to the car and down to Maadi. After a quick lunch, I took the dress material over to the seamstress. She saw the material, complimented its color, felt it, and scowled. She tried to make it seem okay, but I think the material is too thin, not thick enough to hold the shape of the dress. She seemed to think that she can make it work, especially after I told her that I wanted it lined but didn't know what material is best for that. She agreed to find and purchase the lining. I think it'll be a nice stiff fabric. I'll find out next week, when I go for my first fitting.


  1. You should try to get creepy people's license tag numbers...if you can remember those arabic numbers long enough to write. I think you can report them to the Embassy.

    And I look forward to seeing this dress. Do you have a wedding picture to share so we can get an idea?

  2. If you can believe it, all of the pictures of the bridesmaids either show only their faces, or there are flowers over the midriff, or there's something so you can't actually see the dress! But it's David's Bridal style 8567; there are pictures on their website. I did tell the tailor to add wide straps.

    I had to assure Jeff of all the mental steps I took to be confident I was safe . . . looking in the backseat and floorboards as I walked quickly down the sidewalk as far from the vehicle as possible, etc, to make sure no one else was in the vehicle . . . now he's got me looking out for that specific vehicle again, as if I'll recognize it. You're right, though, I should have gotten the tag number. I was focused on the inside of the car when I really should have taken a sec to get the identification.


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